|King Milan I|
At one point Milan I abdicated in favor of his son, King Alexander I, but later returned and led the Serbian army quite capably. King Alexander I was something of a reactionary, abolishing the more liberal constitution of his father in favor of one that gave the King greater power. However, he later moved back in a more liberal direction, enacting another constitution and giving Serbia a bicameral legislature for the first time. It didn’t quite work out for him though as his efforts to maintain royal authority over the upper house earned him some powerful enemies and in 1903 the King and Queen were murdered by a group of army officers intent on replacing the House of Obrenovic with the House of Karageorgevich on the Serbian throne. There were also wider, international aspects to the regicide. The main ringleader was in the pay of the Russian government which wanted to see Serbia move in a direction that was friendlier to Russia and more hostile to Austria-Hungary. The secret society known as “The Black Hand” was also involved and, likewise, wanted to end the period of relative friendship that has existed with Austria-Hungary in favor of a nationalist agenda at Austro-Hungarian expense. The change in royal dynasties also factored into this as the Obrenovic had been known for good relations with Austria-Hungary whereas it was no secret that the Karageorgevich intended to move Serbia into the Russian sphere of influence and had an openly antagonistic attitude toward Austria-Hungary.
|King Peter I|
Everyone knows what happened next. In 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife were assassinated in Bosnia, Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia which, backed up by Russia, the Serbs rejected and the First World War was off and running. King Peter I reigned over a country of determined people and an army of tough veterans of the Balkan Wars. When Austro-Hungarian forces first invaded Serbia, the Serbs sent them packing in quick order with a bloody nose. Eventually, however, Austria-Hungary, backed up by Germany and later Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, conquered Serbia, pushing the Serb army out until it was rescued on the coast by the Italian navy. The Serbs reestablished themselves on a new front and fought on to the final Allied victory in 1918. Serbia did extremely well in the settlement after the war and the long-held dream of the “Greater Serbia” seemed to be an accomplished fact. King Peter I, by then acted for by his son and regent, was proclaimed King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to account for all of the territory formerly part of Austria-Hungary that was given to Serbia. This later became the less wordy Kingdom of Yugoslavia, reigned over by King Alexander after the death of Peter I in 1921.
|Prince Regent Paul and that other guy|
It was with this in mind that, in 1941, Prince Paul signed up to the Tripartite Pact, making Yugoslavia a (very lukewarm) member of the Axis powers. This has to be seen in context. France (a traditional ally) had already been defeated and Britain looked to be going down too and it seemed that Yugoslavia would have little chance for survival unless they came to terms with Germany and Italy. However, that was not to be as Prince Paul was quickly ousted from power in a British-backed military coup that quickly took Yugoslavia out of the Axis and into the Allied camp with King Peter II being declared of age and assuming his full powers. It was this which prompted the German intervention in the Balkans with Yugoslavia quickly being conquered and divided into German and Italian occupation zones. King Peter II had to flee to the United Kingdom where he finished his education and joined the Royal Air Force while in Yugoslavia communist and royalist factions fought the occupying forces and each other. A key moment came in 1943 when the Allies, having agreed that Eastern Europe would fall under the influence of the Soviet Union after the war, dropped their support for the royalists and backed only the communist partisans. The young King Peter II was pressed to do the same and to name the communist leader “Tito” the commander of the army and prime minister.
|King Peter II|
However, the bad news did not end there for Serbia with the Kosovo region declaring independence in 2008. Serbia has, of course, refused to recognize this but many in the European Union have and the dispute has still not been settled. King Peter II died in exile in 1970 at which point the leadership of the Serbian Royal Family passed to his son Crown Prince Alexander (who should be King Alexander II), a very successful royal who has been forced to live most of his life in exile. It was a happy occasion then when Crown Prince Alexander was first able to return to Serbia in 1991. He moved there permanently after the downfall of the last communist dictator in 2000. The citizenship of the Karageorgevich family was restored as was the use of their property (actual ownership remains ‘up in the air’) and Crown Prince Alexander quickly became a respected figure in Serbian national life. In a way that should be an example to royal exiles everywhere, Crown Prince Alexander has supported worthy social causes while all the while making the case for the restoration of the monarchy and arguing for the superiority of constitutional monarchy as a system of government. The Serbian Orthodox Church has backed a restoration of the monarchy and support for the Royal Family has been growing steadily. It is unfortunate that the political power holders in Belgrade have, so far, refused to take action to restore the Serbian monarchy but, especially compared to many other countries, there remains considerable room for hope and reason for optimism when it comes to the cause of monarchy in Serbia.
|Crown Prince Alexander|